Nickeled & Dimed in Yoga: Why do Yogis Work for Free?

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Most people do not get into yoga for the money, despite the industry being worth over 10 billion dollars in the US. Becoming a yoga teacher requires an incredible amount of dedication and costs, including monetary and personal. Yoga professionals are aware that a lucrative yoga market does not necessarily translate to a lucrative yoga career. In fact, many yoga teachers have, at some point, worked for free. In an industry that has exploded in the past five years, and requires extensive training and dedication, why are yoga teachers willing to work for no monetary gain? Why don’t Yogis demand more?

  1. We are driven by passion, not money.

Most people who work in the yoga industry may enter it out of passion, focusing more on the joy of actually teaching, practicing, and being involved in the yoga community than wealth. The connection to yoga is a powerful personal one, and the instructor wants to share that with others.

  1. We are predominantly women, and we do more for less.

Another factor is rooted in the demographics of yoga: the majority of yogis are women. Women work for less pay, speak up less about pay inequalities, and do more work than male counterparts. In fact, women are more likely to work with unstable contract jobs and are more reluctant to ask for a pay increase or promotion. Bottom line- research has shown that women work for less money than men, and these societal roots may be growing into yoga.

  1. We are honoring yoga philosophy by giving to others.

The Upanishads are ancient scriptures that discuss the concept of karma yoga, or sacrifice through action. In the modern day, others may feel that they are acting in a selfless form of Karma yoga, using yoga’s own philosophy to explain working for less or nothing. Essentially, you are sacrificing your work for perceived benefit of others.

 

  1. We equate celebrity or notoriety to success.

The popularity of yoga in recent years has created a competitive yoga market. Developing a following via social media, including YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, is commonplace for yoga teachers. The yoga industry has combined into fitness industry and celebrity culture, promoted by social media outlets. The result? Many teachers are willing to work for free in the hopes of achieving success by creating a following or brand.

Should Yogis Work for Free?

As much as I would like to answer this question with an unwavering “NO”, I recognize that the situation is more complex than that. In a time of unpaid internships and people vying for exposure, I can’t knock anyone for try to get experience- in fact, many people do it in a way to pay their dues before getting a paid gig. However, the amount of unpaid “work” in yoga is alarming, ranging from work trades abroad to promise of exposure through online websites- all without monetary pay. Working without appropriate compensation affects not just you, but other people in the industry as well. When considering working for free in the name of experience and exposure may actually devalue the work that you do. This devaluing of work reaches far beyond the individual, affecting the overall industry.

If you are in this situation, or are considering working for free, reflect on this: Do you feel respected? Are you learning something? If you answer no to either of these questions, I would leave and gain your experience elsewhere. If yes, consider staying- as long as it feels okay to you. But be aware that this is feeding into a larger social structure that promotes inequality. Respect yourself, what you do, and be true to who you are as a teacher, person, and student. You are valuable, but will you demand and command others to see you the same? It is your call.

 

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